I get more confused trying to differentiate between Honor Blackman and Diana Rigg than any other people, or things for that matter. I blame the TV programme 'The Avengers', and the fact that both actors had a penchant in that series for wearing leather and duffing-up villains. So, my nightmare (well, one of them) is a play with the title 'Honour' starring Diana Rigg cast as a character called Honor. For me, it's the perfect recipe for unmitigated confusion. Nevertheless, I will attempt to retain my sanity in what follows, bearing in mind that Honor Blackman has nothing whatsoever to do with 'Honour'.
When I entered the auditorium for this play, I was also confused by Liz Ascroft's set. With ranks of straight-back chairs set-out on steps surrounding the rear of the stage, I expected there to be a cast of thousands, or at least some dreaded audience participation. Not so. The chairs remained unoccupied for the duration of the show, their dumb existence as incomprehensible at the end as at the beginning. Supposedly a room in a Hampstead home, the set also has 2 enormous bookcases which would almost be too big for the Bodleian Library.
George (played by Martin Jarvis) and Honor (Diana Rigg) have been married for 32 years and live in a comfortable, middle-class home in Hampstead (well-known as a residence for the intelligentsia: writers, artists, actors, intellectuals etc). George is a famous journalist who, as the curtain goes up, is being interviewed by a smart, bright, vivacious young woman, Claudia, who is researching a book on 'Movers and Shakers'. However, Honor is also a writer in her own right, but put her work on the back burner in order to give priority to George's career. Of course, it's telegraphed from the start where this drama is heading. And sure enough, George falls for Claudia and decides to leave Honor.
For me, the plot hit rather too close to home for comfort since a divorce in my own family ran along similar lines - a male 50-something relative leaving his wife of 30-odd years for a much younger woman. So, I have considerable sympathy with Honor's position, though can't understand her reaction, which is unreasonably reasonable.
Diana Rigg has all the best lines in 'Honour'. For example, after George has left her, he tells her he's not ready to die yet - 'What a shame', says Rigg. But that's about the intensity of the response from her as she faces the reality of losing her partner. Unbelievably devoid of any (totally justifiable) anger, even her daughter can't understand it, and is much quicker to call her father a 'fucking bastard' and to show signs of genuine emotion and hurt. 'What do you want me to do?' says Rigg to her daughter, Sophie, 'Cut up his trousers?' Well, frankly, yes!
As the play proceeds, the various parties all meet each other in duologues, again all conducted with the utmost reasonableness with never a suggestion or merest hint of loss of composure. I'm not sure if the message of the play is that this is how women ought to react in order to preserve their 'honour', or if it's something quite different. Either way, one doesn't have to ram home the idea by giving the principal character the same name as the play, which to my mind seems rather trite, if not corny.
Martin Jarvis seemed comfortable as the affable George prior to his departure from his wife, but afterwards appeared more challenged and ill at ease in the role. On the other hand, Diana Rigg's Honor was a model of dignified reserve, which is acceptable since there's nothing much else for her in the script. But I would have expected more in the way of unspoken reaction which was never really evident.
As the career-obsessed seductress Claudia, Natascha McElhone produced a convincing performance, which just fell short of the totally hardboiled obsessiveness she needed to convey - there was a hint of girlishness about her which just took the edge off the portrayal. More on key was Georgina Rich as daughter, Sophie, whose dented self-image leads her to admire the person who has caused havoc in her family.
It's a function of our throw-away, consumer society that we feel we can change partners just as frequently as changing our kettle, acquiring the latest DVD player, or the newly released model of an MPV. And in that sense, the play's subject matter is meaningful and important. If Ms Murray-Smith's intention was to show that a woman can survive separation with dignity, then the play can be considered something of a success. But it achieves it by expunging the reality of the pain, anger, suffering, bitterness and trauma women experience in these situations. And in that sense, it regrettably fails.
What the popular press had to say.....
NICHOLAS DE JONGH for THE EVENING STANDARD says, "Poor production." Alastair Macaulay for THE FINANCIAL TIMES says, "The play is a bit lightweight and too damned neat." ROBERT HANKS for THE INDEPENDENT says, "Diana Rigg errs on the side of understatement, projecting a warmth and reasonableness you would not associate with her, but not the angst the drama needs." MICHAEL BILLINGTON for THE GUARDIAN says, "Honor's residual strength, instead of stealing on us unawares, is signalled in advance by the lustrous presence of Dame Diana." CHARLES SPENCER for THE DAILY TELEGRAPH says, "Why, one wonders, is top talent queuing up to star in what can only be described as a bog-standard mid-life crisis adultery play?" BENEDICT NIGHTINGALE for THE TIMES says, "It’s incisive stuff and, in its quiet way, cuts pretty near the quick."
A Review by one of our readers Gary Mack
18 Feb 2006
I arrived at The Wyndham's theatre in plenty of time for the matinee performance of a play entitled "Honour" starring Diana Rigg, Martin Jarvis, Natascha McElhone & Georgina Rich an impressive but small cast. Never deterred by a short running time I entered the auditorium in the dress circle with the curtain raised.
As the audience for this performance were taking their seats I read my programme to learn that there was only four people in the cast, however the stage set was set for a cast much larger than the programme indicated?
As the house lights went down and with no announcement to ensure people had turned off any mobile communication the performance began. George and Claudia set the first scene. As Ms Rigg made her entrance she had a great stage presence bringing her character of "Honor" to life, with the best lines in the play about a couple that has been married for 32 years and about to suddenly change direction thanks to Claudia & George.
George makes it clear from the start that he's the one in control of his married relationship with Honor. Played I think with great passion fused with such misery for what George believes is a more exciting life, cue mobile phone!
Martin Jarvis plays this role with conviction and brings a smug side to his character. Diana Rigg & Martin Jarvis work well together and make the marriage believable.
The role of Claudia played by Natascha McElhone certainly convinces the audience and herself that she is the woman for George even if she's much younger. Sophie (the daughter) played by Georgina Rich brings a great edge to her character becoming more obsessed by the fact that she wants to be more like Claudia, its a tearful cry for help.
I was a little disappointed that the play did not go deeper although at one hour and fourty minutes there was little time. The play was engrossing dispite the mobile! seeing how each person responds to their situation and each other, however for me the play lacks punch and depth.
The use of blackouts from one scene to the next works very well, but the set which is a little mind boggling with rows of chairs placed at either side and to the rear of the stage are not used though out the play this was to me a slight distraction in part as I was waiting for others to enter the stage or some reference made by the characters to them being there. Star quality this play has but fails to deliver the message.